On Withdrawing

I’m an introvert. When I take those Myers-Briggs tests, I’m consistently an INTJ, which means Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging. What does that mean? Well, for one thing, it means that these describe me fairly well:

“To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of ‘definiteness,’ of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age.”

My specialized knowledge system was literature and writing, and I did indeed start to develop it at an early age. And I do think that I generally appear to be self-confident. I generally am, within my particular area of expertise.

“INTJs are perfectionists, with a seemingly endless capacity for improving upon anything that takes their interest. What prevents them from becoming chronically bogged down in this pursuit of perfection is the pragmatism so characteristic of the type: INTJs apply (often ruthlessly) the criterion ‘Does it work?’ to everything from their own research efforts to the prevailing social norms. This in turn produces an unusual independence of mind, freeing the INTJ from the constraints of authority, convention, or sentiment for its own sake.”

Yes, I’m a perfectionist, and yes, I have a strong pragmatic streak. I want things to work. And be perfect, both. And I hope I have independence of mind. At least, I regularly question what I’m told by society, testing it against my own beliefs and experiences.

“INTJs are known as the ‘Systems Builders’ of the types, perhaps in part because they possess the unusual trait combination of imagination and reliability. Whatever system an INTJ happens to be working on is for them the equivalent of a moral cause to an INFJ; both perfectionism and disregard for authority may come into play, as INTJs can be unsparing of both themselves and the others on the project.”

I think imagination and reliability are actually very good terms to describe how I act in the world. And yes, I am sometimes unsparing of myself, although I do try to be sparing of others. Unless something really does need to get done. (Notice that I’m ignoring the less flattering words, like arrogant and ruthless. I don’t think I’m either of those things, in general. But I can be deeply, deeply annoyed when I think something is being done incorrectly.)

“INTJs are usually extremely private people, and can often be naturally impassive as well, which makes them easy to misread and misunderstand. Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense. This sometimes results in a peculiar naivete, paralleling that of many Fs – only instead of expecting inexhaustible affection and empathy from a romantic relationship, the INTJ will expect inexhaustible reasonability and directness.”

Well, yes, I do usually expect people to make sense, and I sometimes don’t understand when they don’t respond to situations logically and rationally. That’s the Spock in me, I think. And the intensely private part – that’s really why I’m mentioning this category at all. Because my streak of introversion is rather strong.

What introversion really means is that in order to operate efficiently, I need time alone. In a quiet place, preferably with dim lights, doing something like this, writing. Time alone gives me energy, whereas time with others drains that energy. As do conflict and mess. (It’s difficult to pick an argument with me, because I don’t argue unless I absolutely have to. And when I absolutely have to, when it’s something I care deeply about, I argue only to win, never for the sake of arguing. Because arguments make me feel sick.)

I’m writing all of this simply to say that today was a withdrawing sort of day. I’ve been doing a great deal lately, and much of it has included interacting with people. Which is wonderful, and I do love interacting with people – I’m particularly glad that I got to spend so much time with the Odyssey students. But after action and interaction, I always need to withdraw, to go off by myself. The real different between an introvert and an extrovert is that an extrovert gains energy from being with others and loses energy alone, while for an introvert it’s the opposite. Being with others is draining, solitude restores.

I think most writers are introverts. They have to be, to be able to spend so much time by themselves, in front of computer screens. They pretend to be extroverts in order to go to conventions and do readings. They become extroverts, temporarily. But then they go back to their houses and cats, where they can be as introverted as they like.

Today, I withdrew. This morning, I dropped off the rental car, then went back home and to bed. I woke very late. Then I did the following:

1. Took Ophelia to downtown Lexington, where we bought ice cream and went to the library to check out movies and more books for the library’s Reading Challenge, which she’s doing this summer.

2. Drove to my new favorite antiques store, where Ophelia was allowed to pick out one item. (She picked out a small plastic pouch of children’s games.) I bought another shelf I had my eye on last week and a linen runner edged in lace.

3. Drove to Whole Foods, where we picked out the ingredients for a special dinner to celebrate the end of her school year: sesame noodles with shrimp and broccoli, and her favorite food, which is sushi.

4. Made the special dinner while Ophelia read for her challenge. Then we ate noodles and sushi. And now I’m going to work on my Folkroots column, which is due on the 29th.

It’s been a calm, quiet day.

I don’t want every day to be calm and quiet, but I need a certain percentage of my days to be. That’s something I need as both a person and a writer.

Tomorrow, I should be more myself. But right now I’m going to sit in bed, wrap a blanket around me, and read ghost stories. A quiet end to a quiet day, that’s what I need. I wish the same to all you introverts out there.

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7 Responses to On Withdrawing

  1. Nivair says:

    Heartttssss from a fellow INTJ 🙂

  2. I’m an INFP (Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving). I’ve learned to pay attention to my introverted needs, Without my time alone, I’m out of sorts.

  3. I’m an INTJ as well, or at least I was the last time I took the Myers-Briggs, which was sometime in grad school, at least five years ago. I often feel the need to withdraw, especially now that I’m teaching full time (and have been since 2008). I’m exhausted nearly every single day with all of the interactions that I have to make with students, colleagues, and management.

    Another point: raising children. How have you been able to find your own space and withdraw when raising a little one? Anya’s 20 months old now, which means for 20 months I’ve hardly ever had a chance to be alone (and you know how that affects an introvert). (And how old is Ophelia now? Seems like time has really blown by if she’s already doing summer reading challenges.)

  4. Jason: Believe it or not, she’s seven! I hope you don’t mind if I write a blog post in response to your questions here. I think they’re important and fascinating. But yeah, anything under two is difficult. I’ll write more in the post . . .

  5. Wow, seven already! I still remember when she was just a bump. 🙂

    I look forward to the post, Dora.

  6. emily says:

    I test ENFP but I don’t think I’m a true extrovert, more of an ambivert. Too much alone time and too much people time wears me out but a little bit of both keeps me energized. Although, I feel as I mature I’m becoming more of an introvert and that much of my extroversion is habit.

  7. Wendy S. says:

    I’m also an introvert “INFP” and get too exhausted being around people all the time. My son is a strong extrovert (sensate thinker) so I really struggle with him somtimes and when he was younger, he wore me out. Books, cats, rainy days, somehow they all blend nicely with being introverted.

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